Saturday, August 31, 2013

Our first college tour trip.

College visits are good because they are invaluable research and – because they demonstrate interest in the school - they can actually help you gain admission.  

Remember, in the fall of her senior year, we want to have seven schools that M would like to attend.  Ideally, I want her to visit every school she might want to attend.  To get to seven schools your student would be happy to attend, you need to start off with a larger list of possibilities, research those schools and refine your list.

Also remember those questions that we started off with… size of school, size of town, distance from home, etc.?  The answers you received when you asked these questions of yourself (or your student) in your home may not align with the way you feel when you are actually there on campus. Can I see myself attending school here?  Is X hours by car too far or not far enough?  What feels too big or too small? Are the students like me in important ways; how seriously do they take school, what do they do for fun?  

We made 10 college visits in the month before M’s junior year of high school.  Is this too many? Is this too early?  When we were on campus, admissions people often asked auditoriums full of potential students 1) how many schools they had visited and 2) what year of school they would start in the fall.  By my observation, most had visited a handful of schools and most were “rising” seniors.  About 30% were “rising” juniors.

So here was our first tour…
  • Thursday - Washington University in St. Louis (MO)
  • Friday - Denison and Kenyon (OH)
  • Monday - Haverford and Swarthmore (PA)
  • Tuesday - Bryn Mawr (PA)
  • Wednesday - Princeton (NJ)
  • Thursday - Lafayette (PA)
  • Friday - Oberlin (OH)
M said that she wanted an academically-challenging, small, liberal arts school preferably in the Midwest. 
  •  Three schools met that description*; 
          o Denison, Kenyon and Oberlin are liberal arts schools in Ohio.
  • Four of them were liberal arts schools in Pennsylvania; 
          o Haverford, Swarthmore, and Bryn Mawr are in Philadelphia suburbs.
          o Lafayette is about two hours north of Philly.
  • Two of them were medium-sized (5,000 to 10,000 undergrads) universities; Washington and Princeton.
*  - By “small” we mean less than 3,000 undergrads.  “Academically-challenging” is harder to quantify, but these liberal arts schools were ranked in the Top 50 in the US, & the universities were in the Top 25.

Why these schools?  I chose these schools in part because they were far away, and therefore would be difficult to visit when M’s high school would be in session.   They were seen as “test visits” where we could find out about tours and information sessions, and learn the similarities and differences among school in a low risk environment.  None of these schools were very high on M’s list.      
Our trip started at what could possibly be the end of M’s college journey - in St. Louis, at Washington U.  If you want to attend a liberal arts college and get a bachelor’s in engineering, you can attend a liberal arts college with a 3+2 program.  These programs say that if you take their math and physics courses, and maintain a high enough GPA, you are guaranteed a spot one of the engineering schools with which they partner.  They all seem to partner with Wash. U. and they were having a “college search kick-off” presentation on Thursday morning.  We arrived Wednesday night and looked around.  

It took about 10 minutes of exploring the campus for M to declare “I could go here.”  So maybe she didn’t want as small a school as she thought she did.   It then struck her that by starting at an engineering school, she could graduate in 4 years instead of 5.  The tour the next day only confirmed her excitement for the school.  Besides having an engineering school, they have a business school, and they allow students to double major and minor across schools.  M imagined double majoring in engineering and business.  

This is the reason to tour campuses; it helps the student envision their future – and not just their college years.  

Without getting into too many details, M was able to remove Denison and Bryn Mawr off her list.  M didn’t like how the campus was laid out at Denison and Bryn Mawr couldn’t persuade her to try an all- women’s college.  But the biggest surprise is that it was the two medium-sized universities that were her favorites.  Unfortunately, these are the two hardest schools to get in to.  While both Washington U. and Princeton have a freshman class bigger than the entire enrollment of some of the liberal arts schools we visited; they get so many more applicants that they still end up accepting less than 20% of those that apply.  And in Princeton’s case it is less than 10%.  

This is why you need to find 7 schools that you’d like to attend.  

The other take-away is that I need to revise my list and add some more medium-sized universities. 

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